The Senate environment committee has approved a $287 billion, five-year transportation bill that authorizes $1 billion in federal grants to create electric vehicle charging stations along major U.S. highways.
The bipartisan bill also includes a provision that would make it easier for electric cooperatives to deploy projects that capture carbon dioxide emissions and turn them into useful products.
America’s Transportation Infrastructure Act of 2019 was passed unanimously Tuesday by the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. The bill still must be approved by the full Senate, where it could be taken up as early as this fall. It has strong support from both Republicans and Democrats and from President Trump, who tweeted: “Do I hear the beautiful word, BIPARTISAN? Get it done. I am with you!”
The House is working on its own version of the legislation.
Both the EV and carbon capture provisions are part of the first-ever climate change section included in a federal highway bill. The bill represents significant compromises between conservatives and liberals on ways to reduce CO2 emissions, NRECA lobbyists said.
To cut vehicle emissions, the legislation would offer states and local governments the chance to compete for a total of $1 billion in grants over five years to build charging and fueling stations near highways for electric vehicles and vehicles fueled by hydrogen or natural gas.
Supporters of public charging stations say they will encourage more EV use by helping drivers overcome “range anxiety” when they want to travel long distances but worry about finding enough places to charge their batteries.
To be eligible for the grants, states and local governments must contract with private entities, including co-ops, to acquire and install the charging stations. NRECA hopes that some of the money could be used to upgrade co-ops’ distribution equipment to meet the increased demand for electricity, said NRECA lobbyist Billie Kaumaya.
The transportation bill also includes the USE IT Act, which would make it easier for co-ops to get federal permits for carbon capture, utilization and sequestration projects. This provision also was included in the National Defense Authorization Act recently passed by the Senate.
Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., who serves as chairman of the environment committee, said the USE IT Act would support the kind of research that Basin Electric Power Cooperative is doing to try to reduce carbon emissions from coal-fired power plants.
Basin Electric, based in Bismarck, North Dakota, is a partner with NRECA and Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association in the Integrated Test Center at Dry Fork Station in Wyoming.
The center is looking at ways to take carbon emissions from power plant flue gas streams and recycle them into products ranging from fuel and building materials to animal feed and plastics.
Erin Kelly is a staff writer at NRECA.